We had plans to island hop during most of our trip to Okinawa, but typhoon Talim circled round the archipelago, and we remained stranded in the capital Naha for most of our stay . At first glance Naha is a strange place -long boulevards boarded with exotic palm trees, people wearing Hawaiian shirts, stalls selling tourist nick-nacks and beni imo (purple sweet potato) ice cream. And a heavier, tropical air distinctive to that of mainland Japan.
Pouring rain led us into the huge and characterful maze of indoor markets with tropical fruit, flowers, bric-a-brac, fresh seafood and meat, local vegetables and seaweeds - and also many restaurants. In a way, the bad weather enabled us to sample Okinawa Cuisine in a range of places - from rowdy counters to sweet, tucked away and intimate izakayas. When the typhoon abated, we visited the local pottery district and the Okinawan Arts and Craft center. During a walk on the bay, a family invited us to join their barbecue, and we sat with them all afternoon eating and drinking sake. I don’t know if this would be as likely to happen on mainland Japan.
We finally got a boat to Tokashiki, a small, barely inhabited island and a breathtaking tropical dream. As gorgeous as the beach and jungle were, I’m strangely glad we were forced to stay in Naha, where we got to know a little more of the distinctive Okinawan culture.